Rapaport Magazine

Fifth Avenue Destination

Located on New York City’s world-famous Fifth Avenue, Michael C. Fina prides itself on being a “local” store, specializing in helping young couples become engaged.

By Nancy Pier Sindt

Michael C. Fina and Rose Rosenblatt, who later became his wife, started Michael C. Fina in 1935. They were wholesalers of silverplate and sterling hollowware with offices on the fourth floor of 580 Fifth Avenue. During the 1950s, the company switched from wholesale to retail and relocated to the second floor of the same building. In 1998, it moved two blocks away to its current 26,000-square-foot, two-floor location on New York City’s Fifth Avenue at 45th Street.

 Michael B.

The two Fina sons, George and Charlie, joined the family business and today, their children — George’s daughter Ashley and Charlie’s three sons, Jeffrey, Steve and Michael — run the store. The staff is composed of top industry professionals with many years of jewelry experience and knowledge, including jewelry manager Richard Wubnig, a Gemological Institute of America (GIA) graduate.

Name Recognition

Many people are familiar with the name Michael C. Fina long before they actually enter the store, thanks to the retailer’s affiliations with TV game shows, which date back to the mid-1950s when a Michael C. Fina corporate representative knew someone employed by “The Price is Right.” At first, the retailer supplied silverware to be used as prizes on the show; the list now includes all types of jewelry, tableware and gifts. Michael C. Fina built on that early television connection to go on to provide prizes for such current long-running programs as “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” as well as such past hits as “Treasure Hunt,” “Let’s Make a Deal” and “Beat the Clock.”

While gifts and silverware remain important items for this retailer, jewelry is the dominant category, contributing an estimated 75 percent to the total sales volume, according to Wubnig. Within the jewelry category, bridal is 85 percent of the business. Wubnig says Michael C. Fina was “one of the first” retailers to emphasize the bridal business and at one time signed up more than 10,000 brides per year in its gift registry.

Bridal Ritual

Buying a diamond engagement ring is an established ritual in this store and involves a two-step process. Unlike many retailers, who start the sale with the diamond, at Michael C. Fina, the first step is choosing the mounting. “We do things very differently,” says Wubnig. “The most important thing is the mounting. Most couples have an idea of what they want, and about 80 percent of our sales involve the woman.

In terms of style, the micropavé look is still the best seller, but the halo design is gaining popularity and the classic solitaire is always a winner.

After the mounting is chosen, the next step is viewing and selecting the diamond. An appointment is made and several diamonds are shown with the selected mounting. “We are selling the experience of becoming engaged,” says the manager, noting that he has personally helped 100 of his customers plan their proposals.

In the six years since the store began carrying the Hearts on Fire collection, the brand has become so popular that it now represents a substantial part of the retailer’s diamond sales, accounting for one out of every four diamonds sold. In fact, Hearts on Fire named Michael C. Fina Retailer of the Year in 2010. In addition to this branded diamond line, the store offers its own diamonds as well. While these diamonds bear no specific name, they are all handpicked for quality, according to Wubnig. Of course, there are wide ranges of sizes, qualities and prices, but on average, center stones are 1.25 carats, G color and VS2 clarity. All diamonds are sold with either GIA or American Gem Society (AGS) certificates.

Even though the retailer has impressive sales space, a wide range of products and it supports a number of charities and causes, Michael C. Fina does not stage many events in the store. There is the occasional designer trunk show, but Wubnig says they haven’t been overly successful as it is difficult to attract attendees in such a busy atmosphere as New York City. One successful annual event sponsored by the retailer, however, is the Diamond Dash, a sort of citywide scavenger hunt, in which all proceeds benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Conservative Style

Despite its prominent Fifth Avenue address and worldwide name recognition, Wubnig says most of Michael C. Fina’s clients are local New Yorkers rather than tourists. It is not unusual for the retailer to serve two to three generations of the same family. Wubnig, who is familiar with jewelry styles in other regions of the country, says there is “lots of difference in what New Yorkers buy.” He says his customers generally don’t choose the type of bold jewelry popular in Los Angeles and Texas. He observes that most well-dressed women in this metropolitan area will wear one good pearl necklace — the store features Mikimoto — and classic diamond pieces such as diamond studs, tennis bracelets and riviere necklaces.

Currently, the retailer is trying to grow its sales of fashion-forward styles and recently has added a number of designer collections. Brands include Penny Preville, Tacori, Temple St. Clair, Sasha Primak, Favero, Robin Rotenier and Erica Courtney, offering a full range of diamond and colored gemstone jewelry for women, men and children.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - February 2012. To subscribe click here.

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